Congress Report: 17th Biennial Congress in Dublin, Ireland

General Members' Meeting

Download General Membership Meeting Minutes.

Final Programme

Download the Programme for the 17th IRSCL Biennial Congress.

Congress Reviews

Reviews of the congress from those who were there

The IRSCL conference in Dublin was a wonderful combination of challenging and provocative lectures and papers, along with a fun social atmosphere where children's literature scholars from all over the world intermingled. I enjoyed moving from a presentation on how children perceive the constructions of childhood in one session, to talking with a lecturer from Egypt about children's literature in her country while sipping wine at a library reception where we were shown a first edition of Gulliver's Travels. Trinity College made for a stunning and historical central location, and the overall organization was excellent. It felt well worth the travel and expense to get such an overview of scholarly approaches from many countries and individuals, and to build friendships that I'm sure will last for years to come. - Laura Atkins

"Thank you for a wonderful conference"

"It was exciting to be able to stay in Trinity"

"Superb venue"

"I had a wonderful time"

"I enjoyed the Dublin congress tremendously, both intellectually and socially"

"...very few weak papers and many good ones"

"I received lots of useful feedback on my own work as well as ideas from other sessions"

"It was my first but definitely not last visit to Dublin"

"My congratulations on this fine achievement!"

"Thank you for a magnificent conference!"

"...the gala dinner was terrific"

" conference meal I have ever had, bar none"

"Thank you very much for an extremely well planned and very, very interesting IRSCL conference in Dublin"

"Simply an overwhelming experience both in relation to the scholarly content as well as the venue, the city and the cultural events"

"So many interesting perspectives and experiences, and so many nice and interesting people!"

"I am grateful for all your efforts to make this event successful"

"...truly great"

"This conference ranks among the top I have ever attended"

"I would like to say you THANK YOU VERY MUCH again!"

"...the best travel that I have had"

Trinity College, Dublin Trinity College, Dublin, the site for the 2005 biennial congress

The 17th biennial congress of IRSCL, "Expectations and Experiences: Children, Childhood and Children's Literature," was held in the venerable Trinity College Dublin in August 2005. Delegates from thirty countries attended, and there was a good local contingent also, in the form of Irish academics, writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers and people personally or professionally involved with children's books as well as in the formal study of children's literature.

The conference ran for four full (to bursting) days, each starting with a keynote plenary. The keynote speakers were the well-known Irish literary scholar and champion of children's literature as an academic discipline, Declan Kiberd of University College Dublin; the acclaimed and beloved British children's poet, broadcaster and performer, Michael Rosen; the well-known American art historian and critic Anne Higonnet; and one of Ireland's very finest poets, currently based at Princeton, Paul Muldoon.

2005 IRSCL Congress Logo
The congress logo in situ

Running alongside the concurrent presentations of papers on the conference's four strands (childhood and families, childhood and morality, childhood on display and childhood and theory) were three symposia of special local interest: one on childhood and families in fiction with the children's writers Siobhán Parkinson (Ireland) and Gillian Cross (Britain); one on Irish picturebooks with Ireland's three leading illustrators, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, PJ Lynch and Niamh Sharkey; one on poetry, with the Irish poets Áine Ní Ghlin and Rita Anne Higgins; and in addition two symposia presented by the NorChiLit group on Hans Christian Andersen to celebrate the HCA bicentenary.

There are people who say that taking a bus in Dublin is a literary experience in itself. (Yeah, say the locals, what literary experience would that be? Oh, right, Waiting for Godot.) Certainly it is a lively city, with more pub life than you could shake a PowerPoint presentation at, as no doubt some of our more adventurous delegates discovered for themselves. These same adventurers were in good voice, in any case, at the final céilí of the conference. On the programme, this was billed coyly as "conference dinner." Hah! Fooled ya! Though there was indeed dinner and plenty of it, and more delicious than is usual at such events.

2005 IRSCL Delegates Join in Music-Making Members join in the music-making after a superb banquet

Foreign delegates, please note: "Molly Malone" is not considered comme il faut in the better circles of Dublin life. You'll know better next time. Modify your expectations, people, and improve your experiences - or words to that effect.

2005 IRSCL Delegates at the Banquet
Some members partied on after the farewells on the last evening...

Seriously minded delegates took their dose of Dublin more sedately, preferring to tag along on one of the pub crawls, I mean, walking tours of the city, led by O'Brien Press authors. (O'Brien Press is Ireland's leading publishing house for children's and young adult books. This is a shameless plug, but they deserve it, and so do you.)

Other entertainments included

  • a reception offered at the Mansion House by the Lord Mayor (who is a lady, not a lord, but this is Ireland, anything can be an isomorph - my favourite word of the conference - of anything); I attended this and there was Far Too Much Wine
  • a reception hosted by Dublin City Public Libraries at their splendid new premises in an old building (See what I mean about isomorphs? Think "morph" and you get it.)
  • a visit to the studio of the Irish writer-illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, where they could see for themselves evidence of the processes Marie-Louise so spectacularly presented at the symposium on Irish picturebooks
  • the most unusual privilege of a private viewing of Irish prints and drawings at the National Library of Ireland
  • viewing Ireland's most precious ancient treasure, the illuminated gospel known as the Book of Kells, housed on campus in Trinity College
  • a "hooley" at the Old Jameson Distillery - "hooley" is a word in no particular language but general use, meaning a party with drink, though it is not possible to imagine one without drink, at least not at the Old Jameson Distillery

IRSCL and the local organizer cum steam engine, Valerie Coghlan, most sincerely thank those organisations who supported the conference; their assistance was especially valuable and necessary in the absence of government support of any description. Thanks are also due to Conference Partners, who do exactly what it says on the tin: they partner conference organisers, and they do so splendidly.

Dublin is an expensive city as well as a fun one, and delegates' willingness to dig deep and pay up cheerfully is also gratefully acknowledged. We hope it was worth it. We think it probably was.

- Sobhian Parkinson

New IRSCL Fellow: Jean Perrot

Sandra Beckett introduced the third IRSCL Fellow, Jean Perrot. Some of the qualities that identify Jean as an appropriate recipient are summarised by Sandra below.

The IRSCL Fellow was established in 2001 to honour someone who has made a significant contribution to the field of children's literature research and to the IRSCL. The first recipient of the award in 2001 was Klaus Doderer, the first president of the IRSCL and the second recipient in 2003 was Göte Klingberg, the second president of the IRSCL. At the Congress in Dublin, it gave us great pleasure to announce the third recipient of the award, Jean Perrot.

Jean Perrot needs little introduction to most members of the IRSCL. I'm sure that many of you have attended one of the numerous conferences that he has organized at the Institut International Charles Perrault, a center for research in children's literature which he founded in Eaubonne in 1994 and directed for many years.

Jean received a Doctorate from the Department of Comparative Literature at the Sorbonne with a dissertation on Henry James. He is an Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the Université Paris-XIII, but he resembles no retired professor I know. He seems to be as busy as ever promoting children's literature around the globe.

His numerous publications include Art baroque, art d'enfance (Baroque art, children's art, 1991), Carnets d'illustrateurs (Illustrators' notebooks, 2000), and Jeux et enjeux du livre d'enfance et de jeunesse (Play and games: books at stake for children and young adults, 1999), a 2001 IRSCL Honour Book.

He has organized a host of international conferences and edited many important collections of essays. In 1991, he hosted the highly successful 10th Biennial IRSCL Congress in Paris, and then edited the proceedings of the congress, Culture, texte et jeune lecteur, which were published with the Presses Universitaires de Nancy in 1993. He has also served on the board of the IRSCL.

Jean's indefatigable promotion of international exchange and collaboration in the study of children's literature has had a major impact on the field. In 2001 he was awarded the International Brothers Grimm Award.


The 2005 Award was presented to Roni Natov for The Poetics of Children's Literature. Roni has provided a brief reaction to attending the congress and receiving the Award. The Poetics of Childhood is almost out of print and so the IRSCL board has approached the publishers to encourage them to produce a paperback edition of the book.

Remember that the 2001 Award book by Emer O'Sullivan is now available in English as Comparative Children's Literature (Routledge 2005). Please try to order both books (and other books by members) for your institutional libraries.

"The 17th IRSCL Congress was my first and I loved it. It was exquisitely organized, more so than any conference I've ever attended, so that I could go to the first half hour of one of the four concurrent sessions and the second half hour of another and so forth. The sessions were informative and thoughtful. What a lovely city! And at such a far-reaching conference, it was wonderful to have the time and space for socializing with people from around the world, most of whom I had never met before. I came away turned on to some new interests/perspectives: Japanese anime, new graphic novels, much dark and compelling adolescent literature. Of course, the highlight for me was winning the IRSCL Award for outstanding research for my book, The Poetics of Childhood. It meant so much to me for my book to be recognized by international scholars. And with the award, I was presented with a most beautiful painting by South African illustrator, Piet Grobler. I am deeply honoured and look forward to the 18th IRSCL Congress in Kyoto in 2007."

Roni Natov

Review from Poetry Ireland

'We are grateful to Poetry Ireland Newsletter for allowing us to report this full and enthusiastic report on the Poetry Strand of the 2005 congress.'

Serious Fun: a report from the IRSCL Congress by Colleen Bazdarich

Scholars of children's literature from around the world gathered at Trinity College in Dublin this August for the International Research Society for Children's Literature's 17th Biennial Congress. The Congress, themed Expectations and Experiences: Children, Childhood and Children's Literature, featured keynote speeches from Irish critic Declan Kiberd, children's novelist and poet Michael Rosen, art historian Anne Higgonet and poet Paul Muldoon, whose keynote on the last morning of the Congress brilliantly complemented the Poetry Ireland symposium that followed it, Poetry, Children and Childhoods. The symposium was led by Morag Styles of the IRSCL and Poetry Ireland's Jane O'Hanlon, and included poet, publisher and anthologist Seamus Cashman, poets Rita Ann Higgins and Áine Ní Ghlinn, and scholar Mary Shine Thompson.

Paul Muldoon's keynote speech, "Hanging out with Narcissus Batt: a reading of poems for children," was what one would expect from the witty, sometimes irreverent poet: a light-hearted and informal mix of humour and gravity that at one moment recounted anecdotes about Muldoon's own experience with his children, and the next discussed Keats' idea of negative capability. Muldoon stressed the importance of "serious fun" in children's literature - a kind of playfulness free of condescension, the kind "that our friend Joyce was interested in" - which is embodied in his own poem "The Noctuary of Narcissus Batt." Congress-goers were treated to a reading of this poem, an abecedary of animals which rhapsodises on such varied topics as art, criticism, Andrew Marvell and dope dealers.

Muldoon then changed gears from poetry written for children to the importance of poetry written by children. Adult poets have a lot to learn from children, he argued, as they naturally embrace the mystery of words, while maturity brings consciousness and over-concern for the reader. "The six- or eight-year-old has the distinct advantage of not knowing what he or she is doing," he told the audience. The "knowing" that comes from traditional schooling, especially the study of poetry in the classroom, was a subject of debate not only for Muldoon but for the panel members of the symposium that followed. "One of the terrible things that happens in school," Muldoon quipped, "is that one is taught." The teaching of poetry is especially dismal, he concluded, because most teachers consider verse "too difficult" - a "fact" they learned as children at school - and pass on that sense of poetry's impossible esotericism to their students.

Poet Áine Ní Ghlinn shared similar experiences with the school system in her symposium talk, in which she read from test questions posed on the Leaving Certificate about some of her poetry, questions in which the students were made to pick from short one-line descriptions of "what the poem is about." The pressure of exams to produce a "correct" answer robs the work of its mystery, she argued, and drains the act of reading poetry of all its pleasure. From her experience in the schools, students engage in poetry only to the degree they can extract basic information; Ní Ghlinn recounted one school visit where a student asked her to "retell your poem in your own words." As the anecdote drew exasperated laughs and sighs from the audience, Ní Ghlinn ended her talk by wondering how we as writers and scholars can keep children excited - and not just anxious - about poetry.

One possible answer came from moderator Morag Styles, who pointed out that while reports may seem grim, second-level students today show more enthusiasm for verse than their predecessors. Anthologies of children's literature are being released by the dozens, and sales are high; the problem, she posited, is quality. The "serious fun" Muldoon lauded has been replaced by thrown-together books that do little to challenge young minds. Public initiatives like Poetry Ireland's Writers in Schools scheme may be the solution to the dilemma, she concluded, as the programmes not only engage the students in poetry on a more intimate level, but are just as educational for the adult poets who, through their first-hand experience with the students, come to better understand their audience and pursue more challenging subject matter, honing the "ironic, multi-layered and multi-textual" quality of the best of children's poetry.

Seamus Cashman, editor of Something Beginning with P, also expressed a distaste for the majority of publications in children's literature today, but described such output as a necessary evil, work that sells well and keeps the market open for the rare brilliant work to come out. Cashman made an impassioned argument for the delicate and important work of compiling children's poetry, pointing out how much influence a popular anthology can have on "the face of civilisation." While the key to compiling a book for children is providing fun, Cashman concluded, he is also not afraid to present his young readers with a bit of a challenge. Working by his motto "power comes with slow time," Cashman includes a few poems in all his anthologies that no child could easily comprehend on first reading.

Poet Rita Ann Higgins, along with Mary Shine Thompson of DCU, talked about poetry as a way of empowering young people, a force for change. While Thompson admitted that poetry won't solve political problems - citing Auden's "poetry makes nothing happen" - she did acknowledge the role poetry has played in revolutions throughout the ages, especially that of Ireland in the 20th century. "What role can poetry play in putting the world into children's hands?" Thompson asked her audience. Though finding a definitive answer is elusive, Thompson hinted that great poetry can reflect our lives and our children's lives back to us, allowing us to see more clearly the political and social arrangements of our world in a way that can be both inspiring and healing. Rita Ann Higgins spoke of her work in a similar vein. Name-checking Blake's Songs of Experience, she writes mainly for working-class children on the verge of adulthood - often an adulthood that has arrived prematurely - and uses verse as a way to "give children a sense of control over a world that seems unknowable." Higgins spoke passionately of poetry as "power," a means for discovering the source of inequality in the world as well as enacting change.

Following the talks by panellists, Jane O' Hanlon opened the floor of the Poetry, Children and Childhoods symposium to questions, which led to a vibrant and colourful conversation that ranged from the role of parents in poetic education to the BBC's efforts to standardise - and from the opinion of many in the audience, dilute - the English language. Questions were followed by excellent readings by Rita Ann Higgins and Áine Ní Ghlinn. Higgins read "His i's Were Empty" and "Anto's Inferno"; Ní Ghlinn read in Irish and then English "Bunoscionn" and "Tostanna," among others.

Colleen Bazdarich, from San Francisco, is a recent intern with Poetry Ireland.